Asian Men Get a Safe Space to Discuss the Roots of Sexism

Virtual discussion series will help Asian-American men escape the bonds of traditional gender roles, referred to as “the man box.”


Joo’s public health background has helped him approach problems around manhood with a community-oriented mindset. Thursday, Mar. 10, 2022. (Photo Credit: Evelyn Nam)

A virtual discussion series for men of Asian descent is leading to conversations about how their experiences connect with their treatment of Asian-American women.

Dubbed “A Call to Asian Men,” the sessions are intended to provide space for the men  to “connect, heal and learn,” according to the website of A Call to Men, a 20-year-old group based in Rockville Centre, N.Y., devoted to combatting sexism through training and education.

“We need to understand that when our emotions happen – our hurt, pain, grief and anger and rage – that’s an opportunity for us to also be curious about how that is linked to the way we treat women and girls in our lives,” Rej Joo, a trainer for A Call to Men who was born in Seoul and raised in Portland, Oregon, said in a telephone interview. “Part of healing is to witness each other’s stories.” 

A Call to Men takes the view that men need help to heal from the wounds of growing up in patriarchies. 

“Hurt men hurt women, healed men heal others,” Josué Argüelles, the group’s director of youth initiatives, said in an interview. “What we’re tapping into is their humanity and for them to center their healing.” Argüelles added that the goal is to intervene before men’s wounds turn into violence. “The best prevention is interruption.” Argüelles said the question men needs to grapple with is “how do you embrace a fuller, more authentic version of yourself?” 

Joo walks to his next appointment to discuss healthy manhood. Thursday, Mar. 10, 2022. (Photo Credit: Evelyn Nam)

Women’s empowerment isn’t women’s work alone, according to Andrew Clark, a professor of French and comparative literature at Fordham University. “If you want to achieve greater gender equality, you have to have all genders being invested in that equality,” Clark said in a telephone interview. It is “absolutely necessary” to invest in men’s humanity to foster gender equality, he said. “If you only love women in a certain position–if you are only able to love them when they are weak and submissive or when they are strong–that reduces one’s possibility for equality and love.”

According to Joo, men-to-men bonding experiences – such as those occurring during the A Call to Asian Men virtual series – are important because they provide an escape from the confinement of traditional gender roles, referred to as “the man box” by a A Call to Men. “The man box doesn’t allow you to express vulnerabilities or uncertainties,” Joo said. The next event of the three remaining sessions is set for Mar. 30.

“Gender is not the only thing that we are looking at when we are trying to work towards ending violence against women,” Joo said. “You can’t just see a person through one lens.” 

Sexism is shaped by all the factors that feed into Asian men’s lives, Joo said. He said Asian men are not a monolith and share a variety of experiences, such as growing up as an adoptee, being a refugee, not knowing how to speak English, and only having a high school degree. “All of those things that influence how they think about oppression,” he said. Understanding the variety of their experiences  “will be an opening to examining what sexism looks like in their lives and in their families.” 

Before COVID, A Call to Men hosted Training Institute in person, educating up to 125 men, women, and young adults each session. (Photo Credit: A Call To Men)

One way for men to contribute to gender equality is for them to show up for women at home, according to Matthew Weinshenker, a sociology professor at Fordham University. “If you have responsibilities outside the workplace and children to care for and housework to do for more than one person, you can’t achieve great things at the workplace and at home without your partner supporting your goals, not just passively but actively,” he said. “It’s not enough for the male partner to say ‘I believe in you, you can do anything you want,’ to their female partners.” 

It’s in men’s own self interest to play supportive roles for the women in their lives, Weinshenker said. “If all men are is the worker, they are missing out,” he said. “They are missing out on their full relationships with their children and a partner who is really satisfied with their lives together.” 

Restricting men to traditional gender roles has political implications, according to Judith Gardiner, a professor of English and of gender and women’s studies at University of Illinois Chicago and author of “Masculinity Studies and Feminist Theory,” published in 2002. “We need men who can afford to laugh at themselves.” she said. “Vladimir Putin is the perfect example of toxic masculinity. Power is all that counts; nobody else is worth considering.”